Jack Bauer is a character no more

Jack Bauer - a real person?

There are a couple of interesting things about the current season of 24:

  1. It’s good. No, really it is. After the last season which even the writers’ were hating as they wrote, they’ve had a sit down, thought about what was wrong and fixed it. We’ve even had the “there’s a second shooter” moment which has neatly divided the season into two parts to avoid plot fatigue. The launch of the second part was on Monday – and wasn’t it exciting?
  2. Jack Bauer is starting to become a real person.

No really, he is. For one thing, they’ve remembered he has a past and friends. His wife gets mentioned all the time. Kim got a shout-out on Monday and, of course, Tony, Aaron, Bill and Chloe all feature in the cast this year, and his feelings and relationships with them all have been explored.

More to the point, in previous seasons – although not the first – Jack Bauer was pretty much a superhero, an invincible embodiment of US power who never really had to justify himself and was seen to be doing the right thing at all times.

So, interestingly, while the US seemingly drifts leftwards and backs away from Guantanamo and other excesses, the producers have decided to leave Jack Bauer unrepentant this season. They have spent considerable time building up the conservative case that yes, some things are all very well in theory, but in practice, life tends to get a bit messy and there have to be compromises on certain principles or else everyone’s doomed.

But this hasn’t been done with standard 24 bravado, just showing liberals to be interfering busy-bodies with no real world understanding (cf Evan Handler’s liberal Amnesty-esque lawyer from a previous season). The FBI, the President and others all take the standard line that torture is wrong and Jack Bauer is a monster – and they aren’t shown to be too wrong on that.

Instead, as you might expect on the real-time 24, they’re shown not to understand how quickly the world moves. Their methods probably would work given time, it’s just Jack Bauer knows they don’t have that luxury.

But his actions aren’t necessarily shown to be better. Indeed, he faces approbation from just about everyone, every episode, for doing some quite terrible things, and for quite probably crossing a line that shouldn’t be crossed.

So while Jack Bauer remains the hero of 24, he’s now seen to be something darker, something not quite heroic after all, but not villainous or even an anti-hero. He’s a real person with some frightening beliefs and frightening methods that set him apart from others, but ultimately helps him to defend them, whether they approve or not.

My favourite line of the season was at the end of Monday’s two-parter. When faced with Kurtwood Smith’s liberal senator, who’s shut down CTU and is busy investigating Bauer for human rights abuses, Bauer retorts that: “You are weak. You will not do what needs to be done in the face of evil.”

As anyone who’s seen A Few Good Men will testify, no one does scary conviction like Kiefer Sutherland. 24 is worth watching again, and not just for the action sequences. Surprisingly, it’s also for the characters and some thought-provoking moments.